Take me to the river
It’s interesting how most women in Greek myths are troublesome, prone to flights of fancy and skilled at leading men to their ruin. Take the myth of Orpheus, the gifted musician, and the beautiful but irresponsible Eurydice. Soon after they are married, she wanders off, is bitten by a snake and winds up in the Underworld. Orpheus goes to Hades to beg for her return. It’s granted under one famous condition: Walk in front of her all the way out, and don’t look back. But he doesn’t listen, looks back to check that she’s actually behind him and poof, she’s lost to him forever.
Sarah Ruhl’s modern twist on this story, Eurydice, finally gives us a glimpse of things from her perspective. The play, currently in production by the University of Nevada, Reno’s Department of Theatre and Dance, depicts Eurydice (Riley McKinney), a young woman tragically torn between her one true love, Orpheus (Thomas Chubb), and her dearly departed father (Matthew Denney), with whom she is reunited in the Underworld.
After Hades (Camden Mauer) lures Eurydice to the Underworld, she is dipped—like all its entrants—into the River of Forgetting. As the Greek chorus of stones reminds us, in what I found the most heartbreaking line of Ruhl’s play, Eurydice’s memories, her words and her understanding of life have all been wiped clean. “Listen to her,” they say, “the way you would listen to your own daughter if she died too young and tried to speak to you across long distances.”
But her father, who has been alone here and missing her desperately, finds her and comforts her, tenderly building her a room of string in which they can live together and helping her to learn a language they can share in order to retrieve her memories.
But as Orpheus makes his way to her, we are presented with a dilemma we don’t expect: Should she return to her one true love—a man she barely remembers and doesn’t recognize—or remain with her father, with whom she feels safe and loved?
And the crux of the play, the haunting question you’re left with, is this: Is it better to remember and constantly feel pain over what’s lost, or to forget everything, as if you’d never had it in the first place?
McKinney’s Eurydice is childlike—wide-eyed, innocent and lovable. And director Adriano Cabral’s production choices are lovely. The constant sounds of water surround you, from an elevator that rains on its occupants to the walls that constantly drip—ever-present reminders of the nearby river’s threat. Small set details, such as the glass bottles hung from the ceiling, demonstrate the fragility of the cozy world Eurydice and her father have built.
There is such delicacy in the actors’ careful movements, from Eurydice’s gorgeously executed slow-motion descent into Hell to her father’s long, arduous process of building the room of string. The pacing occasionally feels unendurably slow and ponderous, more as if the actors have forgotten what’s next than a hint at the expansiveness of eternity.
But as the last tinkling, melancholy piano notes play out, you can’t help but wonder, “What would I choose?” And it’s a tougher question to answer than you might think.